The six to three decision last week by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Children's Internet Protection Act was a major disappointment for the American Library Association, which had successfully challenged the constitutionality of the law in the lower courts since it was passed in 2000. As a condition for receiving federal funds, the law requires libraries to attach filters to public Web connections in order to block material that is obscene or harmful to minors.
In his opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist rejected arguments that claimed forcing libraries to install filters is a violation of the First Amendment and imposes an unconstitutional restriction on libraries. In separate concurring opinions, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Bryer wrote that because it is easy to turn off such filters, the First Amendment rights of adults are still protected. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the minority, said the law falls prey to the trend toward "overblocking" and is a threat to free speech.
The ALA jumped on the question of filters, and in its statement called for "full disclosure of what sites filtering companies are blocking, who is deciding what is filtered and what criteria are being used." Filtering companies, the ALA added, "are not following legal definitions of 'harmful to minors' and 'obsenity.' "
Despite exhausting its legal options, the ALA's Judith Krug implied that the fight can be waged on the ground, telling PW sister publication Library Journal that the group will "suggest to libraries that they post a sign" advising patrons that the filters can be turned off.